Feel It Coming Back
Rinor Centre Stage
It was Grilled's turn to begin a match a man down, after they were penalised for Gennady Dvorak
's no-show due to his transfer out. This didn't get them down, however, and they got to the Round of Sixteen without a hitch, putting Colombia's Atletico Santana away inside 22 minutes.
The tournament match was hardly of the highest priority, after the day's whirlwind of deal-broking, and there was a feeling that Santana might just threaten the four-goal margin required to overhaul the Birds. Grilled concentrated on a safe possession game, however, and this turned out to be just what they needed, to ride out a straightforward victory.
Starting with 31 year-old German central midfielder Kay Olbert as their core, Santana's clear objective was to maintain parity with a conservative 4-5-1, and count on Dan Kuperman to find the goals. These plans didn't take long to be shattered, with Hariharan Prabhu
reading Ang Leong Kum
's mind in the fifth minute, allowing him to step up and past Santana's flat backline.
Kadir Sarp didn't exactly inspire confidence with his slow reaction to Prabhu's strike, and Santana would wind up drawing back during these formative minutes. Having yielded the field, it proved very hard for them to get back into a positive mentality despite their man advantage; still, Mohammad Ramli Saliman
should count himself lucky not to have invited a red after a tussle with Walther Küntrop, since two would probably have been too much.
As it was, Grilled were coping pretty well, and did their bit for entertainment with some expansive play. Neeraj Muthyala
was having a good day on the left despite it not being his usual position, but didn't make the most of a naughty little chip over the top by Moey Xin Seng
. Despite that, the scuffed shot fell back to Moey, who however also disappointed in turn, by overhitting it.
No matter, Rinor Isufi
would get it right several minutes later. Now indisputably Grilled's main striker with Dvorak gone and Tian reduced to impact substitute - for however long he stays, anyway - the Albanian took to his newfound responsibilities with relish. Only too happy to test the shaky Sarp, he went for the evocative after Ang found another hole to pass through, and rocked the net with a powerful blast.
Atletico Santana were not taking this well, but their players' deference to Olbert was frankly counterproductive, and resulted in Kuperman being badly undersupplied. Clark Won
was a terrier in his marking of the Santana vice-captain, and they would scarcely have a look into the Grilled penalty area, for the remainder of the half.
Little changed after the interval, as Grilled stayed smart, and Gene Filippone
could well have increased the lead further, after a sustained Birds push saw him stationed just outside their final third. It would be the Swiss defender's last touch of the game, as it turned out, with Hoàng Trung Quá
making his entrance.
That didn't help Santana either, and they would have Sarp to thank for once, four minutes later. The Birds were slinging the ball between them with an perhaps unwarranted ease, with Hariharan Prabhu
picking his spot after one last exchange on the left side. This time, the Santana goalkeeper would outdo himself, righting himself just in time to ward the fiercely-struck effort aside.
Their chances would be dashed once and for all with Kuperman's dismissal in the 72nd minute, as the Israeli skipper finally lost his patience in explosive fashion. Having gotten into Yuta Nakakita
's pocket one too many times, Kuperman finally decided to get his own back for what he felt was a shortchanging, and kicked out at the defender after losing out on a high ball.
Although he barely made contact, the intention was only too clear, and referee Zhe Deshan had no alternative but to award the prescribed red card. If any of Santana's supporters had managed to continue living in hope, the loss of their only recognized striker on the pitch would put paid to them.